Saturday, April 07, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, June 1952

This is a pulp I own and read recently. The scan is of my copy, complete with newsstand stamp on the cover. I pulled this issue of TEXAS RANGERS off the shelf because there was a story by Clark Gray in the issue I read a few weeks ago that I enjoyed, and the Jim Hatfield novel in this issue, “Warpath”, is also by Gray, one of only two Hatfield yarns he wrote for the magazine. The other was “Lobo Colonel”, from the January 1952 issue, which I read in a paperback reprint many years ago. I don’t remember anything about that one except that I didn’t like it and didn’t think Gray had a good handle on the Hatfield character. I wanted to give him another chance, though.

Well, as it turns out, while I didn’t completely dislike “Warpath”, I didn’t much like it, either. It’s the old plot about somebody selling whiskey to the Indians (in this case, the Comanches) and stirring them up. Hatfield’s out to find the culprit and put a stop to the plan. He winds up with a sidekick of sorts, a young white man who was raised by the Comanches and now finds himself unwelcome in both worlds, red and white. There’s a beautiful blonde who plays guitar and sings in a medicine show, as well, along with an older Ranger and a Comanche chief who wants peace. Those are enough ingredients for an entertaining, if stereotypical, story.

And Gray’s writing is okay for the most part, although some of his action scenes are pretty awkward and hard to follow. The thing that bothered me is that this just didn’t really seem like a Jim Hatfield story, like Gray’s other entry in the series. The character was off in ways that are hard to explain. He could have been almost any Texas Ranger protagonist, and he brooded ’way too much. I did like the crazed Comanche warrior Bitterfoot, though. He made a good villain. But overall I wouldn’t recommend “Warpath” to anyone who hasn’t read a Hatfield novel before. It’s not a good representation of the character and the series.

That only takes up about half the issue, though. The first short story is “That Packsaddle Affair” by Jim Mayo, none other than Louis L’Amour his own self, of course. L’Amour was just starting to get established as a Western novelist in 1952 and was still selling regularly to the Western pulps in the Thrilling Group. I’ve long felt that he was a better short story writer than he was a novelist, and this tale is a good one about a Texas outlaw who stops at a New Mexico stage station and finds himself in the middle of a deadly attempt by plotters to steal a rich gold claim from a young woman. The writing is smooth as it can be and the action scenes and dialogue are top-notch, although I thought there was one really good plot twist waiting to be employed that L’Amour never sprang on the reader.

The next story, “Good Country for Prairie Dogs”, is also set at a stage station and is by an author I’m not familiar with, Robert Aldrich. (I assume this isn’t the same person as the movie director Robert Aldrich.) In this one, the station manager and his pregnant wife are waiting for the local doctor to show up on a regular visit, when a seemingly friendly stranger with a dangerous agenda of his own stops at the station. This is nothing ground-breaking but still a nice, tense story.

“Trail Without End” is a novelette by Wayne D. Overholser writing as Joseph Wayne. The protagonist is the sheriff of a dying former boomtown who wants to move on to the gold fields of Colorado, but he’s held there by his love for the daughter of the local storekeeper, whose other daughter is married to a ne’er-do-well young gambler whose father is a horse thief and whose brother is a hired gunman. Got all that? Overholser provides plenty of domestic drama in this one, but there’s some action, too, along with some minor plot twists. I enjoyed it quite a bit because it’s very well written and Overholser does a good job with the characters.

Ralph Perry wrote one of the best Western novels I’ve read in recent years, NIGHTRIDER DEPUTY, and he has a story in this issue, “One Killing Deserves Another”. I like that title, and the story is a fine one about a shooting in a tiny crossroads settlement and the violent aftermath that follows it. Perry has a slightly off-kilter style, but it’s very effective and I thought this was an excellent story, my favorite in the issue.

This one wraps up with “Inside Straight” by Jim O’Mara, whose real name was Vernon Fluharty. It’s the old plot of the outlaw who has gone straight but whose lawless past comes back to haunt him. That familiarity hurts it a little, but O’Mara was a pretty good hardboiled Western writer and does a fine job with it.

This is an odd issue of TEXAS RANGERS. It’s the only one I ever recall reading where the Jim Hatfield novel is actually the weakest story in the bunch. All the others are very good to excellent. So it’s well worth reading, but I’d recommend the lead novel only to Hatfield completists.


Spike said...

I have been reading some Texas Rangers from that same period. I was surprised how good the supporting stories were including Gordon Sherif (sorry about the spelling) and, in one, a terrific Roe Richmond authored story. Really am enjoying these issues.

James Reasoner said...

Yeah, there are good hardboiled Western stories by authors such as Shirreffs, Giles Lutz, and Joseph Chadwick, as well as some fine cavalry yarns by Steuart Emery during that era. The only stories I don't like are the humorous Westerns by Ben Frank. I tend not to read those. The only things I've read by Roe Richmond are some of his Hatfield novels, and I tend not to like those much, either, because of the tarnation of sidekicks he saddles Hatfield with, but I really ought to try some of his non-series stories.

Jim Griffin said...

This isn't one of my favorite Hatfield tales, either.